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My club recently picked up several Bluetooth Lionchief sets to run at our Open House. They will be running on a 35'x85' layout. I found that if the train gets just slightly too far from the Universal Remote or the Ipad running the Lionchief App the train stops and goes into the "chirping" mode.

There is one spot in the center of the layout that has the range to connect all around the layout but it is unfortunatly no where near the switch control panel. I do realize that these are designed to be run on a small home layout. But, is there anything that can/has been done to add extra range to the locomotives?

 

 

 

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There are Bluetooth signal repeaters / extenders on the market. I haven’t used one, and I certainly don’t know if it would be compatible with the Lionel Bluetooth.  Just brainstorming with you...

Usually, with BT it seems that you need some sort of interface to select the BT device (ie phone to repeater) or pairing buttons to connect that way. With Lionel BT, it seems to be more of a direct/auto connection between the engine and the device/remote.  I’m not sure if the BT repeater would be able to intercept and rebroadcast the signal??? 

@Dave Olson come to think of it, a Bluetooth signal repeater housed in a railroad building would be a useful accessory.

Perhaps someone with more Bluetooth knowledge will comment. 

You could always walk around with the train, that’s what the remote is for 😉

 

Last edited by JD2035RR

Yes I found on a small garden railway some rock piles would block the BT signal the hand held remotes have a much better range. Even on the home layout if I hit a bad bit of track or occasionally behind something and I am in the wrong location the train stops and you have to work to get it to connect with the BT device again.  I have pretty well given up with the BT and just use the hand held remotes you do not need to look at the screen to make them work and the kids find them much easier to use then BT.

The range of the BT is one big sticking point.  The range of the traditional LC and LC+ remotes is also an issue, though it seems better than the BT equipped models.

For the BT range issue, is it mainly a remote issue as opposed to the engine? 

Not exactly sure how it will work, but I wonder if the range issue could be fixed with the CAB3 base?  If I get the CAB3 base, I would be using my CAB2 remote, will be interesting to see.

"Will this help improve the range of existing locomotives that do not have Bluetooth 5?"

Good question.  My reading of what's on the web is that they did not increase transmitter power, rather increased receiver sensitivity.  If that's a correct reading, older locos would have the old range (20-30 feet indoors) rather than the new range (80-100 feet).  But I'm no engineer, and it's always necessary to field test the theory .

@BOB WALKER posted:

It was just a question of time for Lionel to move to Bluetooth5 and get the operating range  up to 100 feet. I have tested other control systems using Bluetooth5 and have previously verified the increased range.  Wi-Fi based control systems also have good operating range. The point here is that it was a matter of Lionel's choice, not a fundamental systems issue.

Bluetooth 5 does not guarantee increased range. There are plenty of Bluetooth 5 devices that have a range that do not exceed 10 or even 3 feet by design. Lionel's current problems with existing pre-BLE5 locos are not because of using older technology but because it was designed with limited power output and PCB antennas that don't offer much range to begin with.

The signal is only as good as the weakest link. So engines with BLE4.0, many being limited to around an average of 20 feet, will still be limited to 20 feet when being controlled by the Base3 with BLE5.0

Engines coming out with BLE5.0 will have much greater range. We have already done some range testing with BLE5.0 and it's a huge difference.

Last edited by Dave Olson
@Dave Olson posted:

The signal is only as good as the weakest link. So engines with BLE4.0, many being limited to around an average of 20 feet, will still be limited to 20 feet when being controlled by the Base3 with BLE5.0

Engines coming out with BLE5.0 will have much greater range. We have already done some range testing with BLE5.0 and it's a huge difference.

Any chance of being able to stick the new board in existing locomotives?  I suspect not, but I had to ask...

@Dave Olson posted:

The signal is only as good as the weakest link. So engines with BLE4.0, many being limited to around an average of 20 feet, will still be limited to 20 feet when being controlled by the Base3 with BLE5.0

Engines coming out with BLE5.0 will have much greater range. We have already done some range testing with BLE5.0 and it's a huge difference.

Dave, are any of the universal remotes different from previous ones, or would they all have the same internals?  Was not sure if any of the newer ones had a better range.  I know that i have two and they have different numbers on the back of the remote.

@Dave Olson posted:

The signal is only as good as the weakest link. So engines with BLE4.0, many being limited to around an average of 20 feet, will still be limited to 20 feet when being controlled by the Base3 with BLE5.0

Engines coming out with BLE5.0 will have much greater range. We have already done some range testing with BLE5.0 and it's a huge difference.

It would be amazing if you offered BLE5.0 upgrades. This would help my club a ton to be able to run the Polar Express and Hogwarts during Open Houses. They always get stuck at one end of the layout. Thomas, Percy and the Halloween RS3 have no issue at all though.

@greg773 posted:

It would be amazing if you offered BLE5.0 upgrades. This would help my club a ton to be able to run the Polar Express and Hogwarts during Open Houses. They always get stuck at one end of the layout. Thomas, Percy and the Halloween RS3 have no issue at all though.

My PE and Hogwarts are now TMCC, they run all over on any layout, including the NJ-HR.

This is killing us right now. We're well over 130 Ft end to end without line of sight conditions (maybe 3-4 walls.. like good thick plywood, not just drywall) so the 2.4 GHz BLE just can't get the range even on all the brand new Lionel models everyone just got for Christmas. BLE is like wifi and has all the layers (PHY,MAC,LINK) so there's no such thing as a dumb repeater since it has to affirm endpoints.

We probably need to wrap the whole club up in tin foil and get some waveguide or cavity mode propagation going at 2.4 GHz.

Seriously though, did anyone come up with a good answer for overcoming the range limits on BLE?

@romiller49 posted:

Is there a lesser quality Bluetooth used in the lionchief items compared to the Bluetooth used in the high end items? Do any of you have success running high end engines at large club or show layouts with the Bluetooth range? Just wondering.

Well there's a few versions of Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE in different Lionel products, but our club is just so far out of bounds in terms of SNR/Path loss for any of those 802.15 standards.

We need something like ZigBee or LoRa in our trains clearly!

@greg773 posted:

My club recently picked up several Bluetooth Lionchief sets to run at our Open House. They will be running on a 35'x85' layout. I found that if the train gets just slightly too far from the Universal Remote or the Ipad running the Lionchief App the train stops and goes into the "chirping" mode.

There is one spot in the center of the layout that has the range to connect all around the layout but it is unfortunatly no where near the switch control panel. I do realize that these are designed to be run on a small home layout. But, is there anything that can/has been done to add extra range to the locomotives?







This response will not be helpful…the small range is due to the limits of older Bluetooth system.  The new Bluetooth 5.0 has a working range of over 100 foot. Lionel has been converting its most popular Bluetooth items over to 5.0 for the past two catalogs,  

@RixTrack posted:

This response will not be helpful…the small range is due to the limits of older Bluetooth system.  The new Bluetooth 5.0 has a working range of over 100 foot. Lionel has been converting its most popular Bluetooth items over to 5.0 for the past two catalogs,  

Well 802.15 (BLE5) can propagate 100 ft in line of sight conditions with the humidity down. Once the channel conditions change... it gets pretty limited pretty fast as we're finding. Practical indoor NLOS conditions are more like 30-40ft.

Also BLE5 has a pretty limited equalizer in the PHY... that the trains are moving probably doesn't help with fade losses.

Don't you also have the issue that both ends have to be using BEL5 in order to realize the increased range?

Yeah…. That should be true. 802.15 specifies legacy modes so your BLE5 modem will revert if it’s paired with an endpoint that doesn’t support it. The pairing exchanges let the two endpoints specify which link mode to use.



I’m thinking about buying like a ZVA183 S+ PA and sticking it in the remote and locomotive to bring up the transmit power. Since BLE is a TDD system (not transmitting and receiving at the same time) you should be able to solder the amp feed to the pcb antenna directly without needing to access in front of the diplexer. 2.4 GHz is an ISM band so you don’t need a license up to 1W of EIRP.

That's a lot of work for something that Lionel should have done from the beginning!  I'll stick to Legacy/TMCC/DCS, I have no range issues with those.

If I bring up the transmit power it means only one LC BT Train can run at a time in a club since it’ll jam/in-band block everyone else. As long as that train is my train I guess I’m fine with it 😁

As pointed out, the Bluetooth range issue is not a Bluetooth generic system issue, but the choice of mode Lionel selected with its initial offering. Lionel engineering is well aware of this and is correcting the problem. Somewhat related, it has become clear that Lionel is going all in on smart device app control. Their approach appears to be to enable app control for every system in the Lionel arena. Having worked for several years with a number of app controlled systems, I can understand their decision and heartily endorse it.

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